Until the early 1900s, it was customary in the Sauvala village of Lieto to erect a cross on a small patch of field known as Ristinpelto – the Field of the Cross. This name is traditional since, according to folklore, a cross must always stand on the site. If there is no cross, "people will be assailed by large numbers of bald young men rising from the field" (Killinen 1878). The term ‘bald' refers to the tonsure, the partial shaving of the head by monks. The cross was last renewed in 1998.
In the 1940s, when plans emerged to build houses on Ristinpelto, the Archaeological Commission decided that it was time to investigate the local folklore about the place. In excavations performed in 1949-50, 149 graves were found. This proved that Ristinpelto really had been an ancient cemetery. Most of the deceased were in coffins, but some were not. The burial method used suggested an early Christian cemetery. The graves have been dated back to the period between the mid-1000s and the 1200s, i.e. from the late Iron Age to the early Middle Ages.
A low stone wall surrounds the small cemetery. It is not quite certain whether the wall was built for the cemetery or constructed as the nearby fields were cleared. Experimental excavations conducted in the 1970s revealed that the cemetery area is larger than previously assumed, extending beyond the stone walls. A large Stone Age dwelling site was also found on the site.
The remains of a four-square building (7 x 7 m) are located in the middle of the cemetery. Findings in excavations indicate that the building burned down at some point in its history. It was probably a chapel but this is not known for certain. A similar chapel was found in the 2010s at Ristimäki in Ravattula, Kaarina. It had previously been suggested that the remains were those of a belfry.
The Government purchased the Ristinpelto archaeological site in 1949. In 2014, the site was transferred from the National Board of Antiquities to Metsähallitus, which manages it under the guidance of the National Board of Antiquities.
Long history of settlement in Sauvala village
Sauvala village is located in the valley of the River Aurajoki, along which early settlements spread inland from the coast. Ristinpelto is only one of the archaeological sites in the area:
- the Ylipää cemetery, a site of rich cremated burials dating from the 500s to the early 800s, is situated around 200 m south-east of Ristinpelto, i.e. in the direction of the River Aurajoki,
- The Viking Age (800-1050 AD) Jokipelto cremation cemetery under flat ground is situated approximately 300 m from Ylipää.
- In addition, a large silver treasure trove from the period of the Crusades has been found at Anttila, just 75 m south of Ristinpelto. A silver cross pendant and around 900 silver coins, probably hidden there in the 1060s, were found on the site in 1898.